Engaging Introverts in the Workplace – Why and How Quiet Power Matters

Here’s the truth about us introverts: We are not going to march into your workplace and make ourselves known. That’s the last thing in the world we’d probably want. We are quiet and often misunderstood for being shy and non-participative. You can probably think of someone at work who matches those traits, if you aren’t that person yourself.

Workplaces can be an introvert’s nightmare when leaders don’t know how to deal with us. It seems like the more we hide, the more we get called out, causing us to retreat further into our shells.

As an introvert, I’ve been told to “just come out of your shell” but it’s not that simple. We’re built in different ways and come in different temperaments. If work places can celebrate diversity in the form of gender, age, race and experience, we can celebrate the beauty of extroverts and introverts too. It’s something that needs to happen.

So here’s a guide on recognising the quiet power in your workplace, how to engage it and why you should:

First, what is an introvert?

Author of ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking’, Susan Cain, describes introverts as those who prefer “quiet, minimally stimulating environments.” These are people who’d get more out of a night in with friends, chatting over wine than a night out partying.

It is different from shyness. Cain explains, “Shyness is the fear of negative judgement, while introversion is simply the preference for less stimulation. Shyness is inherently uncomfortable, introversion is not. The traits do overlap, though psychologists debate to what degree.”

Recognising an introvert however, might not be the easiest task. In a world that celebrates extroversion, they’ve learned to pass as one. But they are the ones who are often seen having one-on-one conversations with co-workers, hardly ever in groups, actually enjoying lunches alone and occasionally even skipping the office party.

How can we engage them?

So, if introverts love their shells, how can we get them to come out of it? The answer: don’t. Susan Cain puts it beautifully – “…we are constantly exhorting people to ‘come out of their shells’ – but there’s a lot to be said for taking your home with you wherever you go.”

Thankfully, there are other ways such as:

  • Creating a safe space by having a conversation in a separate room
  • Reaching out to them personally instead of calling them out in a crowd
  • Being clear about what you want to achieve with the conversation (introverts do not enjoy small talk)
  • Letting them know that your workplace appreciates the quiet ones and let them be themselves
  • Approach gently – don’t barge into their space. Instead, respect it. Imagine how you would feel if someone didn’t respect your space.

Once you’ve learned to engage the introvert in your workplace, it’s easier to make them feel like they are understood. After all, your employees are more likely to be better contributors when they feel like they belong in your workplace.

So how can workplaces benefit from introversion?

1. More thinking, less talking
The introvert’s reflective nature leads them to think before they act or speak. In a meeting where everyone is shouting out ideas or figures, the introvert may seem to not be contributing. The truth is, we are most likely absorbing all the information presented, taking note of what’s been said and what hasn’t to make an informed decision.

As Cain puts it, “Introverts reflect a strategy of observing carefully before acting, thus avoiding dangers, failures, and wasted energy, which would require a nervous system specially designed to observe and detect subtle differences that others miss.”

2. Listening isn’t a skill, it’s inbred.
If you want someone to really hear what you’re saying or rather, to hear what you’re really saying, speak to an introvert. Introverts are great listeners not only in the way the pay attention but in their ability to sense what the person speaking, is feeling.

Take us to a meeting with a client and we’ll tell you how they really felt about the work presented.

3. Relational skills over social skills
An introvert may not be the life of every party but they certainly relate to people better. Introverts have a talent for fostering meaningful one-on-one relationships. What more can you ask for when it comes to building a loyal clientele list?

4. Better leaders
Their ability to relate better to others also makes them surprisingly good leaders. The introvert’s ability to relate to others allow them to see things from different perspectives and let the opinions, feedback or ideas from the team shine. They are not the type to overshadow the team and insist on having their way. An introvert listens, and then decides.

Harnessing the Quiet Power

This is the simplest bit: just let them be themselves. As Cain writes, “Make the most of introverts’ strengths – these are the people who can help you think deeply, strategise, solve complex problems, and spot canaries in your coal mine.”

Recognise, engage, and then let them shine, quietly.

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